Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Brother as Mirror: a family drama

I sat next to my brother at my dad’s wedding dinner five years ago.  It was difficult to avoid; my mother wasn’t there—since it was my dad’s wedding—and there we were, the close relatives of my father, all two of us.  My daughter spent the evening writing funny notes to my cousin, sitting beside me but in a totally different world—she is so blessed, while I sat beside my brother listening to his monologue, which was one third victimhood, one third scarcity and lack, and one third humorous commentary on current events.  I tried not to wonder if he had showered recently, or if he was high, and just observed with my best witness consciousness—not the easiest point of view to attain at a family event, but I had just come off of a long and blissful week of tantra in Northern California.  I had seen dolphins and whales from edge of a cliff.  While having sex. The last thing I wanted to do was turn around and spend—well, money, first of all, and---time in the midst of my relatives.  The Universe was offering me a buzz kill and I was declining.  I’d smile through it.  I love the pictures from my dad’s wedding; I look radiant.  Darn glad my dad was marrying a woman 20 years younger who is an elder care giver.  I could not have written a better plot for myself.  So I had managed to buy tickets for my daughter and myself that let us land in time for the wedding and leave the following morning, which felt very corporate, and I kind of liked it. 

Somehow my father chose an excellent Romanian restaurant, and although there was practically nothing that I could eat, given my austere Ayurvedic dietary restrictions, it was certainly a huge step up from what I’d expected when I’d heard the words “Romanian restaurant.”  Plus I got to dance with my dad, which is always a treat, because he chants the beat in my ear, which, one, really demystifies the whole dancing thing for me and, two, makes me feel taken care of.  One two three, one two three.

So I sat with my younger brother and received knowing glances from our aunts and cousin, who see him more regularly than I do—which isn’t difficult since we don’t know each other’s phone numbers and my brother hasn’t showed up for a family event in several years.  But they know him.

“Dad stole three grand from me,” my brother mentioned, after his witty and articulate update on the state of the bumblebees and how it is affecting the economy. 

“He did?” I asked.  Maybe someone with…balls…or a few Landmark Forums would have called him on it immediately, but I wasn’t there to start a fight.  The last time I had called him on anything—years ago, certainly well before my now 12-year-old was born—he had thrown a beer at me, from across the room.  He had held onto the glass, but just whipped the beer itself across the kitchen, and as I stood, stunned, wondering if I was in a past life memory about being cowboys in a saloon, my dad had gotten a dish towel and started soaking it up.  A pragmatic move I guess, as opposed to holding onto any shred of hope that Nick would suddenly snap into some level of sanity, or even momentary clarity, let alone clean it up.

So I sat at my dad’s wedding dinner and looked at the sumptuous, beef-laden platters and listened to the drama of the three grand, eagerly awaiting the moment when I was alone with my dad, so I could mention it. 

“That’s ridiculous,” my father said, when we took a walk in the fresh air later in the evening.  I of course had known it was ridiculous but just wanted to have that moment of sharing, bonding, with my dad, more amusement on my part than his.  He said that if anything, my brother had taken money from him, mostly in the form of bills that my dad has paid of my brother’s without being reimbursed.

After I had returned to Chicago and was asked how the wedding was, I said, “My brother is a living tribute to my family’s deepest ancestral dysfunctions.”  

Where I am hyperaware of any shred of victimhood, or feeling of financial lack, and consequently change my attitude or my energy or my verbiage on the spot, my brother spouts it out, uncontrolled; our ancestral lack is running his life. 

Granted, a little medication would take the edge off for him, if he’d consent to a prescription, but I am not sure how even with medication a person could dig himself out of a hole he doesn’t know he’s in, and I knew during our conversation and actually ever since the thrown beer, that to point out to him that he is responsible for his own life results in conflict, or a mess.  We were surrounded by food.  I was wearing an absolutely heavenly dress.  I was unwilling to be a perpetrator of even subtle truth, under those circumstances, or any, actually, which is why I don’t know my brother’s phone number.

“Do you mind sitting on the other side of me,” he had requested, “so I can hear you; I can’t hear out of this ear because of my accident.  I’m just lucky I have any ear at all. Hey, if you sit on the other side of me, you won’t have to look at the carnage.”  That was enticing motivation to change seats.  The accident—that would be the accident in which he was DUI, the result of which in Arizona is an immediate loss of driving privileges.  He rides a bike everywhere or his girlfriend drives him—his girlfriend, whom he hates, so much he wouldn’t go visit her after her mastectomy, his girlfriend who is the exact same age as my dad’s bride, who I am thrilled to say is indeed a happy, nurturing, Romanian eldercare giver twenty years younger than my dad, which gives me no end of relief, since my brother is clearly ill-equipped to handle caring for my dad, if ever the time comes, even though they both live in Phoenix.  I suspect my dad will outlive my brother, though.

My father has been to Romania several times in the last 15 years, representing a bank that never did get off the ground, leaving him and my mom fairly devoid of savings—between the bank and my brother’s legal bills.  My parents would rather have no money at all than have their son in jail, where he deserves to be, where he might actually have the valuable experience of hitting bottom.  So—my inheritance.  That’s where it is!  Two DUI accidents and a bank that was so bound for success that even I invested a few thousand.  No one in my nuclear family has any money at all.  And it’s not our fault. That's the story.

On one of my dad’s trips to Romania he went to visit family.  Before his first trip, his business associate had informed him that he had been using the equivalent of hillbilly Romanian grammar all his life—my dad is quite the English stickler and would be horrified if I ever said the word “ain’t” which he apparently was saying in Romanian.  Who knew?  He just spoke the Romanian his parents had spoken.  But that wasn’t going to cut it in the banking industry.  Or even in the city.  So he brushed up.  And on one of his trips he went out to the country to visit relatives he’d never met.  He knew a couple of cousins in the city, a professor and a dentist.  But the other side of the family was a day trip.  So he arrived, probably nattily dressed, because my mom had trained him well, and was offered wine, which they served him in a tin cup.  He drank, politely. After he had eventually placed the empty tin cup back on the table—apparently he was the only one partaking---the head of the household picked up the cup, refilled it, and took a sip, which is when my father realized that this family owned only one cup.

I have been told that our ancestors were shepherds—that my father’s father was a shepherd.  It is an absolutely stunning realization to me, that my edge—it is just an edge and not a full-blown acted out fear, not a shadow that I’d don and act out of at a wedding dinner for example---that my edge of slight, teeny tiny fear of homelessness stems from these shepherds.  My life made so much more sense, once I’d learned of the shepherds.  No wonder I dislike and fear moving.  No wonder I was destined to choose a husband who would lose all of our money, plus. --plus enough more to keep us in debt forever.  And I had imagined we were vampires.

I would like to be able to break in now with a riveting drama.  Something that ties together the one wine cup, with our inheritance. This is all I have: my brother and I have three alcoholic grandparents, just short of 100% destiny toward self-destruction.  So we as siblings inherited a wine cup, but only one.  And he got it.  It could have been a silver spoon, but nooo.  If you do the genetics, there is a certain probability, a likelihood of who will inherit being a victim to alcohol: 50-50.  I win.

Maybe there is something else at work in the world of families, something else less quantifiable. 

I received an unquantifiable gift sitting next to my brother.  I am still stunned, when I realize what an incredible mirror he is, spouting off the worst of what our lineage has to offer.  Our family can’t do anything!  We can’t even hear!  Due to circumstances beyond our control!  And we couldn’t afford to do anything anyway, even if we had the freedom, because we’re broke; money’s hard to make, and there is great unfairness involved.  Thank you, Nick! 

My mom told me, a few years ago--and why she never thought to tell me sooner, I’ll never know; had it just occurred to her that second?--that three of her father’s three brothers had committed suicide.  Let me rephrase that.  All three of my grandfather’s brothers killed themselves.  What’s up with that?  I’m not going anywhere with that; I’m just wanting to take the burden off of my dad’s cup-sharing relatives.   Lest anyone blame my father for my brother’s carnage, I needed to mention that my mom’s side of the family has some undertow as well. 

I am sorry that my brother has turned into such a vivid cartoon of my ancestral dysfunction.  He was a brilliant and creative child, very sensitive, probably too sensitive.  Super cute.  It probably didn’t serve him well, or more likely my parents didn’t know what to do with a sensitive, cute boy.  Neither did they know what to do with a tomboyish girl.  Somehow I managed.  Somehow he didn’t. I have invested zero energy in him in so long, that I can honestly say I’m near neutral.  He feels more like a second cousin, sad but true.  I talk to my guy cousins more. Sometimes I feel a tiny bit of guilt—it barely registers.  I love whatever energy of him, whatever Love we share, the energy that We both Are.  I am sad that he seems to be a shell around that Love, impenetrable.  There has been a part of me over the years that has wondered if it is my responsibility to pull him up, but I have attempted to resuscitate a few dead men in my life, and I’ve never been successful, and it’s been, ultimately, draining.  I think the best I can do is just honor the Light that he is, and when I think of him, hold him in the Light.  Think of him as that Light.  And not as a bottomless pit of wasted money.


  1. WOW! Life takes us in so many directions. History and life experiences contribute to who we are at any moment, but please always remember that history, nor life experiences, define us. I believe that God placed us on this earth to please him and as a test. I think we all have all failed numerous life quizzes and tests. Yet I also believe that we can all persevere and ultimately graduate to the next life in good standing. I also believe that without pain and strife we would fail to appreciate that God put us here and He wants us to realize that we need Him. While in Haiti, I realized how the poorest of us sometimes were the most appreciative and joyful. Maybe simple is better. Maybe financially poor is better. I have every confidence that spiritually rich is better than financially rich. I digress. I do not believe that it is ever too late to redefine who you are. I haven't seen Nick since he was a kid, but I believe in him; that he can start over and become whoever he wants to be. I agree that sometimes we need to hit bottom so we know which way to go next. I am sure when the time is right you will gather up the energy to lovingly, yet directly tell him the truth and help him set out on a new path. I offer my best to you and your family. Your old buddy, Steve Moore

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I believe you are handling the ancestral dysfunction in your family tree using the skillful means at your disposal while keeping the loving compassion alive. A good lesson for me. Stay happy.